Sarah Baartman, the new fishery patrol boat in service with the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEAT), which called at Durban at the weekend Picture: DEAT

Cape Argus - Smit Amandla Marine is considering taking the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries to court.

The company’s spokesman, Evelyn Holtzhausen, said allegations levelled against it by the department amounted to libel.

Consultation between the company and its legal advisers was continuing on Wednesday.

On Monday, the department issued a press statement in which it said a forensic investigation had “confirmed” multibillion-rand corruption in vessel management by Smit Amandla.

The company has been employed by the state to maintain its vessels since 1995.

“Contracts signed… were irregular and were deliberately drafted to have maximum benefit for [Smit Amandla Marine] amounting to approximately R1.6 billion to R2bn. The state had no protection in any of these contracts and the available evidence suggests complicity and corruption between government officials and [Smit Amandla Marine],” read the statement.

Pieter van Dalen, the DA’s spokesman on agriculture, forestry and fisheries, said he had known about the forensic report for six months, but to date had not seen any “tangible evidence” that corroborated the findings.

“There’s no doubt that the allegations contained in Monday’s press statement open the [Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries] to a libel law suit,” Van Dalen said.

“It was a rash move, one that could potentially bankrupt Smit Amandla. The business of any company will take strain if it is so openly accused of double invoicing, fronting and corruption by a government body.

“Smit Amandla employs lots of people, it is a BEE-compliant company. I strongly advise them to take the matter to court.

“The company’s constitutional right to a fair trial was compromised by Monday’s statement.”

The Department of Environmental Affairs on Wednesday refused to be drawn on the allegations by the fisheries department that environmental affairs officials had also been involved in the corruption.

On Monday, the fisheries’ department had said: “Evidence against [Smit Amandla Marine] and officials in [environmental affairs] and [Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries] is overwhelming, indicating widespread complicity, corruption, and deliberate entering of contracts unfavourable to the state.”

On Wednesday, Zolile Nqayi, environmental affairs spokesman, said the department would not react to the allegations, adding that it had been made clear that the forensic report had not been shared with the Department of Environmental Affairs, “so we have no idea if the report specifically names individuals and if it does, who the officials are”.

“So, no, we will not be conducting any investigation with regard to the allegations based on the [fisheries department’s] media statements.”

Smit Amandla has a contract with environmental affairs that expires in March and the department is considering bids for the new contract. Nqayi would not say whether Smit Amandla had put in a bid.

The fisheries department has since watered down the wording of its allegations. During a press briefing on Monday, its acting director-general, Sipho Ntombela, made no overt assertion of corruption.

“It’s too little too late. The damage has been done,” said Holtzhausen.

The Cape Argus asked fisheries’ department spokesman Lionel Adendorf for a response to the news of a possible lawsuit and whether the department stood by the wording of the allegations made against Smit Amandla on Monday.

He said he would respond by e-mail. At the time of going to print, no response had been received.

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Cape Argus